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  'Canonical Trial' Set for Two Priests
Diocese of Madison Mum on Details

By Pat Schneider
Capital Times [Madison, Wisconsin]
May 6, 2005

A rare secret tribunal of the Catholic Church will be held in Madison in the cases of two priests accused of sexual misconduct.

Diocese of Madison spokesman Bill Brophy said recently that a "canonical trial" would be held on the charges against suspended priests Gerald Vosen and Kenneth Klubertanz.

Bishop Robert Morlino removed Vosen from his post as pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Baraboo in February, 2004.

Klubertanz was removed from his position as pastor of St. Patrick's Church in Lodi in June 2002 by Bishop William Bullock, now retired.

Jay Conzemius, canon lawyer for the diocese, said in an interview this week that he could not disclose any information about the canonical proceeding.

"The whole process is held in confidence, under pontifical secret," Conzemius said. He wouldn't say when the proceeding will be held.

Morlino invoked that veil of secrecy in refusing to produce diocesan documents sought in a defamation lawsuit that Vosen brought against his accuser in Rock County Circuit Court, according to court records.

Through Madison attorney Don Heaney, Morlino told the court that he was prohibited from disclosing diocesan records by the secrecy demanded by the ecclesiastical court and barriers to state interference with church hiring and employee supervision in the U.S. Constitution.

Heaney referred to two Wisconsin Supreme Court rulings in the 1990s, including one in a lawsuit against the Madison Diocese, that established that civil courts may not interpret church laws or policies.

The state Supreme Court is reviewing those precedent-setting rulings in another priest sexual misconduct case in which it is expected to rule this spring.

Heaney argued that a subpoena requiring Morlino to appear and produce all diocesan records connected to the allegations against Vosen would have a "chilling effect" on the church's supervision of its priests at a time when church oversight was of great importance to society at large.

The subpoena was quashed by Rock County Circuit Judge John Roethe.

Vosen is suing a man who accused the priest of sexually abusing him while he was in the fifth and sixth grades at St. John Vianney's School in Janesville in the early 1990s.

In placing him on leave, Morlino told Baraboo parishioners that Vosen had been accused of molesting three people.

Vosen has maintained he is innocent of the charges.

Klubertanz has been accused of molesting one boy in in the 1960s when he was with a Reedsburg church and another in the 1970s when he was assigned to a Janesville church.

Klubertanz has denied the allegations.

The accusations against both men were turned over to the diocese's sexual abuse review board, required under a national policy established by U.S. bishops in 2002.

The review board determined the allegations were credible enough to forward the cases to the Vatican, according to Brophy.

Conzemius said that the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith can dispose of such cases or send them back to the originating institution.

Referring a case back would suggest "they're thinking that this is credible, but it needs to be further investigated," Conzemius said.

Under canon law, evidence is heard by a college of judges, he said.

Morlino would be the chief judge of such a college of judges hearing a case in the Madison Diocese, Conzemius said.

Under canon law, unlike civil law, the accused does not have the right to be present, Conzemius said. There also is no right to cross-examine witnesses, he said.

The accused is represented by an adovocate, Conzemius said.

The proceedings are held in strict secrecy "to protect the reputations of everybody," he said.

In a case involving allegations of sexual abuse that had been made pubic by the diocese, Conzemius speculated that there would likely be an announcement of some kind at the end of the process.

"There would need to be something, I would think, as far as what the resolution was," he said.

Canonical proceedings would determine resolution of the cases under church law only. The diocese has indicated that civil authorities were informed of the allegations against Vosen, but that Klubertanz's accusers asked that that not be done.

 
 

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